Freedom of Association

The First Amendment of the US Constitution identifies the rights to assemble and to petition the government, but does not specifically mention a right to association. However, the US Supreme Court has held that freedom of association is an essential part of the Freedom of Speech because in many cases people can engage in effective speech only when they join with others.[1]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims in Article 20 that:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

The UDHR reiterates this right with special reference to trade unions in Article 23 (4): “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” It is one of the central provisions underpinning the work of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN specialized agency which works to uphold the rights of workers and employers to form organizations and to bargain collectively.

This right is further reiterated and defined in subsequent UN human rights documents such as Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) the right of association is extended to include children according to its principle of evolving capacity.

Governments that have ratified these international treaties have agreed to implement these standards at the national level.

Related Human Rights Instruments:


[1] NAACP v. Alabama 1958